Friday, February 18, 2011

The Great Create

This week, in a fit of being broke, bored and emotionally off-kilter - a menstrual period and a full moon in the same seven days? Universe, you can test my patience a little - I wandered into a bookstore just to see the sights. I had already been to one earlier in the week, a discount warehouse that's great for synergistic deals (sometimes, you don't know you need some Buddhist meditations until you're standing in the aisles of your favourite wordery, giving your best thousand-yard stare as your soul flops like a fish on a dock), but I stopped into an actual bookstore, one that sells non-remaindered books, and sort of breathed the air there for a while.

Much like libraries, bookstores are a place of possibility for me. I really like writing this blog, and one day dream of catapulting myself out of the entry-level jobs I've been taking for the past few years and into something a little more, shall we say, creatively-oriented. Writing makes me happy, in a way that solving paper jams in the 400-pound printer does not. Being in a bookstore helps to reawaken those desires, held off and on since high school, to become a Real Live Writer Person.

I'm both lucky and cursed, because I have friends and acquaintances who are out there, writing for actual publications like The Walrus and The Globe and Mail. It makes me smile those weird smiles where your teeth hurt. You know? Where your genuine happiness is edged with grief and jealousy, so the happiness is all corroded and shitty? Yeah. I love my friends, and I'm happy for them, and part of me recognizes that I don't really want those particular bylines (journalism elicits a big fat "naaaaah" out of me, although my friends who have j-school degrees are all doing very well), but some of me is just in agony. I guess part of being a writer-type person is learning how to deal with gut-destroying jealousy, in the same way that nurses get really adept at getting blood clots off their white shoes.

Humans need creative outlets, even if we don't end up being professionally creative. The preponderance of mommy-blogs, crafting magazines, scrapbook clubs, amateur theatre groups, adult choir groups, and other creative niches just goes to show that we, as a species, need a creative outlet. My ex managed to leapfrog from Guitar Hero to member of actual band. A pal of mine collages and makes gorgeous, bizarre paper cutouts. Other folks I know quilt and sew and knit, busying their hands with productive crafts. I write this here blog. I'm not sure if it will ever level-up and I'll get any money for producing words, but that's a question for the Ghost of Bloggers Future.

Creativity is encouraged in childhood: how many classrooms used arts and crafts to teach lessons? I'm thinking about dioramas depicting WWI invasions, or Thanksgiving turkeys made out of brown and yellow construction paper. Kids also naturally engage in creative play, like coming up with imaginary friends. Sending your children to go "play outside," often seen as a desperate last resort for harried parents, opens them up to a world where they make up the characters and the narrative. A dress-up box, a toy truck, a blank sheet of paper: all tools to make sure kids get the kind of make-believe play they need for cognitive development and socialization.

But as we trudge towards adulthood, our creative impulses become curbed, and we're often encouraged to bring creativity to the workplace, where our neural firings make someone else's paycheck. "Think outside the box"? Please. Not that there's anything wrong with being a creative person on the clock, but it often feels like all our talents and creative impulses should be harnessed in order to make some money. Sometimes, a girl just wants to collage.

As I wandered the bookstores this week, it occurred to me that my job doesn't really have any creative component, and that is a bit of an issue. I need balance, as I think most people do: while totally unstructured time leaves me slack-jawed in front of Facebook for nine hours straight, devoting all my energy to rote job functions isn't good, but in a different way. In my next life, I'm going to make creativity in the workplace number one with a bullet, because let's face it: I need it. We all do, really.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love In The Time Of Valentine's Day

All right, let's get this over with. Valentine's Day is upon us, so let us make the traditional noises of contempt and get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Pink and red? Lame. Hearts? Barf. Candy and flowers? Snore. We all know the drill: Valentine's Day is a soulless Hallmark holiday created by merchandisers to fatten up the February sales ledger and hook millions of unsuspecting consumers into buying crap they don't need for people they probably don't even really love. Right? Okay. Where are my Cheetos??

Confession time: I secretly sort of like Valentine's Day. Not for the hype, and not for the pressure. We all know there's a lot of pressure around V-Day. If you're single, pop culture tries to make you feel like a total loser for not being able to get in on all the his-and-hers gifts, and like not dating someone is the K.O.D. for your social life. I've been single for most of my adult-life Valentine's Days, and there is a humiliation that comes out around that date. And it's not easy if you're in a relationship, either: finding a great gift that reflects your exact level of love/commitment is apparently like wading through water infested with tiny, romantically inclined sharks. One false move and you lose a toe....and you're sleeping on the couch.

When I was a kid, I used to come downstairs on February 14th to find a valentine from my mom waiting on the kitchen counter. It usually came with a little gift - a water bottle or a book, a thoughtful token of affection that just said, "Hey, kiddo, I love you, and I thought of you." To me, that is the beginning and end of what I want from Valentine's Day, and if I don't get it, it's not a disaster. My mom has given me a lot of love and a lot of traditions, and celebrating both with my parents (and one day, my kids) is the best kind of Valentine I could imagine.

It's weird that this whole mid-winter sub-industry of folks shilling lingerie, jewelry, flowers and sweets. To be honest, I'm not friends with a lot of buy-me-things women (you know the type: the girls who post pictures of their engagement rings on Facebook, who have a collection of party dresses from all the formals they attended when they were in a sorority, and who instinctively understand how bridal registries work. My genetic heritage includes a father who was once photographed wearing a ringer tee emblazoned with the slogan "Walkerton: where the men are men and the sheep are nervous" and a mom who sewed her own wedding dress. I come from granola-hipster stock, and man, I have done my parents proud), so I am a little mystified by how, exactly, one is supposed to "celebrate" your love for your mate by simultaneously wearing tiny clothes and eating fatty foods. I feel like V-Day is for folks who don't know how to use their words: the best thing a person can hear on Valentine's Day - and any other freaking day - is "I love having you in my life, and I adore the person you are, and I feel like a better person when I'm with you."

Can we make a pact? I don't want chocolate or flowers, and I really don't want an undergarment that incorporates a heart shape into its design. I feel that the insanity of Valentine's Day can be mitigated by a collective acknowledgment that nearly everyone has some kind of love in their life, be it romantic, familial, platonic, unrequited, or the special kind of love a man feels for a side of extra-crispy bacon. Can we just back up and celebrate those, too? And, uh, can we do it all year long?